The SNP standard response – Firm Briefing 9

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Before tackling the tricky issue of SNP MPs in the Westminster parliament, let me just say that support for our e-petition has been very strong in Scotland: it has received c12,000 signatures from Scotland out of a UK total so far of 118,000 – that’s c10% of all signature compared with Scotland representing c8.4% of the UK population.  [Incidentally Wales currently provides c4.8% of UK signatures (exactly the proportion of the population that lives in Wales) and Northern Ireland provides under 1% of total signatures cf 1.8% of UK population].

Here then is the standard response being sent out by several SNP Westminster MPs to their constituents:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me and for expressing your concerns about the impact of driven grouse shooting on the environment.

I should say at the outset that responsibility for the environment and for wildlife management is devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The fight against wildlife crime remains a high priority for the SNP Scottish Government, and of course all shooting businesses must comply with the law. A range of measures to combat wildlife crime have been introduced, but the Scottish Government has been clear that if current measures are found to be insufficient, it will consider further measures for protection.

I fully recognise, however, the positive role that is played by shooting estates in the management of Scotland’s natural environment and in wildlife conservation, and the Scottish Government will continue to work with shooting estates to achieve positive outcomes in this area. The Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage support the Wildlife Estates Scheme – an initiative to encourage high standards of wildlife management led by Scottish Land and Estates – and also values Scottish Land and Estates role in the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime. I also recognise that well-managed grouse moors can make significant contributions to biodiversity targets, particularly with regard to upland wader species such as lapwing, curlew and golden plover.

The positive role of shooting estates will further be supported and enhanced by the Scottish Government’s Land Reform Bill, which will help to ensure that Scotland’s land works for all of those who live and work on it. The measures in the Bill will help to further encourage and support responsible and diverse land ownership, and ensure that communities have more of a say in how land is used.

As many of you have suggested when forwarding these on to me – this is an unsatisfactory response. These are Westminster MPs offering to do nothing to help their constituents in Westminster constituencies.

This is how I would respond if I were you (but I have used some phrases here, some quite ‘firm briefing’ phrases, suggested to me by readers of this blog):

 

Dear [name of your SNP MP]

 

Thank you for your response on the matter of the up and coming debate on grouse shooting in the Westminster parliament. I would like to correct some errors in your response, to ask you to speak on these matters in the Westminster Hall debate, and to reassure me that you will not use this inadequate response in replying to other constituents.

I am well aware of the fact that environment and wildlife management within Scotland are devolved issues to the Scottish Parliament. I am a sophisticated voter in Scotland – please do not talk down to me. I am also well aware that you are paid to be my Westminster MP and to represent my views in the UK parliament and I would like a better indication that you are prepared to do that on this matter which is very important to me.

Please could you send me, with your reply to this letter, information on your record of attendance and speaking in the Westminster parliament as I am now interested in how engaged you are with the process and this might affect how I vote in the next UK general election (and, perhaps in Scottish parliament elections too).

The e-petition which I signed was open to all UK citizens and residents and the fact that it is one of very few to pass the 100,000 signature mark means that it will be discussed in a Westminster Hall debate in the UK parliament and that debate is open to MPs from all four UK countries.  I believe that SNP MPs have a lot to contribute to those debates and I see that many (eg Drew Hendry, Brendon O’Hara, Ian Blackford, Stuart Donaldson) have spoken in them in the past – indeed, is it not the case that because of the number of seats held by the SNP in the Westminster parliament an SNP spokesperson is entitled, nay required, to speak in these debates?  I am therefore perplexed as to why you do not even mention this possibility in your reply as that was what I asked for in my original letter.  Please let me know, in your reply, whether you are prepared to do so on this occasion.

One of the reasons why I voted in favour of Remaining in the EU [if you did!!] was that nature knows no boundaries. Scottish birds migrate through England, other parts of the UK and other parts of Europe, just as ‘English’ birds travel through Scotland.  Scottish birds’ future depends on what happens in England, and elsewhere, as well as what happens in Scotland. With the aid of modern technology, satellite tagging for example, we are now able to follow the routes of birds such as Hen Harriers raised in Scotland and see that they pass through grouse moor areas in northern England. If we do not get Defra to take wildlife crime seriously many Scottish birds will continue to be killed passing through England – the birds don’t recognise the border. The Westminster Hall debate is a useful opportunity to air these issues, including from a Scottish perspective, and I wish you, my MP, to represent my views there. There is nobody else I can ask – you are my Westminster MP, I don’t have another one.

I would like you to take the opportunity of the Westminster Hall debate to mention the fact that the Scottish Parliament has introduced vicarious liability for wildlife crime and to spell out what value that has been in warning large landowners that they are responsible for their employees’ actions.  I feel this would be a useful Scottish contribution to the debate and one that is most appropriately made by an SNP MP.

The tone of your response seems to me to be much too positively in favour of grouse shooting and the land owners that profit from it and carry it out. Why have you given two name-checks to Scottish Land and Estates and none to the views of conservation organisations in Scotland and in the wider UK?  I am concerned that the SNP is aligning itself with the cause of the problems and not looking hard enough for solutions.

The economic arguments for intensive grouse shooting are poor – they are exaggerated by the shooting industry (see http://www.league.org.uk/~/media/Files/LACS/Reference-material/4pp-Shooting-Briefing-paper.pdf  for the general argument but also, since you seem unaware of the details, for a particularly Scottish perspective read this http://www.league.org.uk/news-and-opinion/press-releases/2015/oct-15/whats-our-grouse) – and you are neglecting to take into account the damage to the environment through intensive heather burning and drainage. Heather burning reduces the hills’ ability to hold water and is likely to have added to the severity of the economically and socially damaging floods in northern England over the Christmas break but also those much closer to home in places like Ballater this spring.  And in any case, how much wildlife crime is the SNP prepared to accept?  The Cairngorms National Park is fast becoming as famous for dead wildlife as it is for live wildlife. In the last year there have been high profile media stories about Mountain Hare culls (legal but unnecessary and done largely by grouse shooting estates), illegally killed Hen Harriers and illegally set traps, and our national bird, the Golden Eagle, is not safe on grouse moors. National Parks in England, such as the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors should also be regarded as massive crime scenes because they lack the birds of prey which ought to live there.

I am very disappointed with your reply. I would like to receive your attendance and voting record at Westminster and I would like a more accurate and considered response to my original letter to you.  I would also like your assurance that you will not send this inaccurate response to other constituents.  I look forward to hearing back from you soon.

 

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24 Replies to “The SNP standard response – Firm Briefing 9”

  1. On the EU front… If the UK government are found guilty over the Walshaw Moor muirburn case, then voters in Scotland will have to contribute to paying the fines.

  2. An excellent reply letter, especially the 5th paragraph about bird populations not adhering wholly to political boundaries. Let’s hope future SNP replies on this widen their sights. Otherwise it’s all testimony to perhaps the greatest of the flaws of nationalism and isolationism – which we in England now also experiment with.

    1. I agree that its an excellent letter but disagree with your linking the SNP with isolationism…they are after all massively in favour of us remaining in Europe, whilst the english political parties were seriously split when not actually hugely supporting such isolationism.Scotland voted for Remain.

  3. RE the last paragraph, you can find out the attendance record of your Westminster MP , from Scotland or anywhere else, and how they voted at http://www.theyworkforyou.com. You can find your MP from the home page and that link gives you headlines. There is a link to detailed analysis that gives a lot more detail under topic areas, including The Environment. Knowing whether they ‘consistently vote’, ‘usually vote’ for something or may sometimes vote for or against it gives quite a detailed picture of who you are writing to. This may or not be encouraging but it is helpful.

    1. Susan – indeed you can. But it makes any MP sit up straight if you ask them the question. Firm briefing!

      1. I wasn’t thinking of just knowing the stuff, I was thinking of using it. Telling them you are keeping an eye on them and how hard, or not, they are working for you can be helpful (whether or not we categorise this as Firm Briefing). Using direct reference to some of this stuff makes the letter more specific to the individual, thereby more relevant and harder to ignore. Relevance is a silver bullet in communication. I spend my life banging on about it. This campaign has tons – I reckon it works at a fine grain one-to-one level too.

    2. You can also ring the Commons Public info office and ask them for a print out of your MP’s speaking record on this issue, whether they ahve signed Early Day Motions or not etc.

      The number is 02072194272

  4. An extremely disappointing reply from the SNP, but not unexpected. They come over all tough, but are usually soft as putty and land reform will no doubt get watered down. My impression of them than rather than being a sort of Scandinavian type, educated, progressive group they really want us is to get one over on the Joneses south of the border, more motorways, bigger cars, bigger houses etc. Salmond ingratiated himself with Trump over his ludicrous golf course which was parr for the course, he did everything to try and deflect any blame from the fisherman in his constituency that they had any responsibility for the state of North Sea fish stocks etc. Hopefully the Scottish Greens will grasp the nettle politically, you never know. I’ll see what the letter from my SNP MP says, but suspect it will be stock response.

      1. Hi Angus..well that’s why I’m in the Scottish Greens, for all its faults. I never liked Alex Salmond and won’t take anything back re my comments on him – he didn’t do Scotland or the SNP any favours over the revolting Trump did he, and he was the figurehead for your party for quite some time. The SNP’s environmental policy has been rather inconsistent, and already the much vaunted land reform, which was only incidentally to with the environment, it’s a separate issue really, seems to be getting watered down – you’ll see from the likes on my comment I’m not alone, response to the petition inquiry didn’t help the did it? This, however, has not stopped me being very good friends with many SNP activists as you know and I did specifically vote for the SNP candidate in my constituency in 1992 as I’d heard what an utterly appalling man the labour one was, he got in I met him and he was. I’m glad you are visiting this blog, it’s really good isn’t it, brilliant to get objective, intelligent observation and comment? Are you regretting signing up for ‘The Gift of Grouse’?

  5. Reading the SNP Westminster MPs’ “standard response” gives me the impression that all the work to get the message out there hasn’t made a tad of difference to those government ministers, i.e. those in charge.
    The emphasis is always on waders rather than raptors.
    Of course waders don’t affect grouse numbers.
    I wonder what they mean by “well-managed” grouse moors; those that tolerate raptors perhaps?
    Surely waders will fare better on land devoid of any predator, including birds of prey?
    One starts to see what they mean by “well-managed”.

    1. I think ALL the conservation organisations whose work has a relevance with grouse moors, which will be the vast majority, state what they are good and not good for and how they can be better from a conservation viewpoint. Even if a conservation organsiation works with an estate to make the best of things that should not preclude it from publicly stating where grouse moors aren’t beneficial for wildlife (juniper and other plants that don’t like being burnt, bats – no roosting sites, anything that needs at least an area of scrub or woodland as part of a habitat mosaic, aquatic life, no dead wood anywhere for its specialists, pollinators that can’t subsist on a temporary glut of heather blossom etc, etc) at the same time. ‘Co-operation’ should not be away of silencing much needed public education, the RSPB should be upfront saying where grouse moors aren’t good for wildlife, not stress the very, very few that might do well if not persecuted, even if it is working with estates. You’d think a few waders are the only endangered species in the country, and even then the ‘BTO’ survey they quoted on how well they do on grouse moors was a fiction – and I’ve heard a pro grouse moor video where the deafening wader calls were almost certainly dubbed on – so not that good even for them?

  6. Constituents (Scottish, English, Welsh, NI) might follow up the reply to ‘standardised’ material by asking to meet with their MP and asking about how MPs propose to make plenty of seats available for the public to observe the performance of their representatives?

    Incidentally does anyone know the seating capacity for public attendance at HoC Petition Committee ‘debates’? Accept it may not be known which room / chamber it will take place in, that assumes that they don’t procrastinate.

    To watch puppets perform is quite an eye opener and has one pondering the necessity of so many?

    1. Nimby – I am already in touch with the Clerk of the Petitions Committee about space for attendance. There isn’t usually much. It is holiday time and we don’t yet know the date of our hoped-for debate but when we do i will let you all know and how you should inform parliament that you would like to attend.

    2. I do know that with petitions to the Scottish parliament the petitioner automatically has an opportunity to come in and talk to MSPs, it is recorded and archived. I know I did a petition four years ago on better reduce, reuse, recycling education and practice in Scottish schools. The Scottish petition to get gamebird shooting estates should be discussed by the petitioner and MSPs at the Scottish Parliament. Any future Ban Driven Grouse Shooting petition in Scotland should also get an automatic hearing there. Good job you don’t need a 100,000 signatures, I only got 198 for mine.

    3. I’ve written to my MP (Mark Warburton, Con, Somerton and Frome), had a response (which was anodyne but not standard) and have arranged to see him at one of his MP surgeries. He seems approachable and is keen to hear the arguments. He most certainly will.

  7. Mark thanks for that LACS report on grouse moor economy.
    I’ve been making those points but didn’t have a source.

    If i get a bog standard reply like that from my MP (Argyll & Bute), he will lose my vote in next election.
    We get crap like that from Mary Hunter the secretary for the Secretary every time.
    They reply like Tories treating us like annoying idiots and presume we haven’t heard their guff before.
    Every time i have written to a Labour MP i have had a considered and personal response even on the occasion when we disagree.

  8. It could be worth pointing out to SNP MPs that they are out of touch with their voters. A YouGov poll conducted for Onekind in March 2016 found that 55% of SNP voters were for a ban of driven grouse shooting and only 15% opposed a ban of driven grouse shooting. Out of those who voted for independence (Yes) 59% were for a ban and only 14% opposed a ban.

    I would like to think more people in Scotland would have heard more of the ills of grouse shooting since our petition has done rather well.

    My SNP candidate in the Scottish Parliament election told me he was against driven grouse shooting. He was against it for different reasons why I was but I didn’t mind. I appreciate his reply even more now I have seen the SNP response. He has sadly since passed away.

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